At long last, a 2019 movie finally provides Write All Nite the opportunity to dredge-up a favorite go-to formulation:
The Kid = Masterpiece Theatre, Western Edition.
AKA, it’s in-your-face phoniness from top-to-bottom, onscreen and behind-the-scenes — both of which boast a bevy of familiar famous faces, including Vincent D’Onofrio donning a director’s hat for the second time. Masterpiece Theatre’s brand of obvious theatricality is in no way a criticism in itself; the strongest examples wield this pretense to probe greater truths. Unfortunately, there’s no probing in The Kid. And yet, its unintended artifice precluding any of this sort of meaningful resonance wouldn’t be a dealbreaker if the movie was, well, fun.
Only one person here takes advantage of the stylistic opportunity intrinsic to a Masterpiece Theatre Western, two genres that share a flair for flamboyance: Ethan Hawke, a try-hard if there ever was one — and that’s why we love him, especially his willingness to try so hard at so many different types of projects. As the prototypical sheriff Pat Garrett dragging to justice Dane DeHaan’s Billy the Kid (just one of the kids the title may refer to), Hawke nails the restrained theatrics deployed in the name of concentrated scenery-chewing that’s basically a mandate of the form. There’s a smirking self-awareness to his sincere self-seriousness, striking a balance between total commitment to the moment with a wink-wink understanding of the genres’ general playfulness; he’s the sole member of the company who seems to be having a jolly old time.
Dane DeHaan definitely, um, tries to get in the spirit. Despite questionable and scant evidence to the contrary, I still cling to the belief that he can find and mine the subtle nuances within his immediately-recognizable persona to ensure sufficient differentiation from role to role, countering the claim that it’s empty, too-easily detectable shtick. But his turn in The Kid could add fuel to the naysaying fire that he’s incapable of convincingly portraying someone other than…Dane DeHaan unconvincingly portraying someone, which wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if he stops being cast in parts that suffer from this lack of range. Dane, time to shake it up, show the peeps the full extent of your skills — how about a comedy?
Hawke exudes the innocent exuberance of a child being able to act out his Hollywood fantasies of playing cowboys vs. robbers on the silver screen — with the execution of an adult privy to and enamored with the beloved tropes he’s reveling in — while DeHaan feels like a kid pretending to be in an adult Western.
And then there’s Chris Pratt, hidden underneath the size of his role (a glorified, practically-pointless cameo), distracting makeup (and a big bushy Bunyan beard!), a dopey Western accent (SNL-worthy, even though comedy is not the goal), and his usual superficial performativity (without any of its breezy affability).